1946 - Denker-Steiner match (US Championship)

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  • 1946 - Denker-Steiner match (US Championship)

    In early 1946, Arnold Denker and Herman Steiner played a 10-game match for the US championship. I'm assuming that since no one organized one in 1945, a match was arranged between these two. Denker had won the 1944 Championship, and Steiner was tied for 3rd with Horowitz - behind Denker and Fine. Denker won 6-4.

    Different sources give different prize funds, which would have been monstrous for the time. Chessgames dot com says it was $2000, with 60% to the winner, and 40% to the loser The February 1946 issue of "Chess Review" mentions "a minimum prize fund of $2000 was to be raised by Fritz Brieger of the Queens Chess Club". No money details are given in later issues containing the results and games.

    However - the April 1977 issue of "Chess Life & Review" says they "played a match for $5000", with no other details except the 6-4 score.

    In any case, $2000 in 1946 would be worth around $27,000 today, and $5,000 would be worth close to $70,000. I'm sure that $5,000 in 1946 would have been enough to buy a small house, or several cars..

  • #2
    GM Arnold Denker wrote at some length about this match, in his wonderful book "The Bobby Fischer I Knew And Other Stories" (Hypermodern Publishers 1995). (I heartily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys chess!!! I place it in my top ten favourite chess books!! GM Denker was a great writer, and he has many wonderful stories. The only slightly annoying aspect is its use of descriptive notation.)
    GM Denker (1914-2005) wrote that the purse for the match was, in fact, $5,000, quite a large sum for the time. The match was held in Los Angeles, where IM Herman Steiner had moved before World War II, and he had quite a following among the movie colony there, with several big name actors and directors as his students. He also had the chess column for the 'Los Angeles Times' newspaper. He married a wealthy woman, and began a chess studio at their home, which prospered. GM Denker had to travel from New York, his home, for the match, and did so with his wife; while there, the two made friends among the movie colony, as he explains.
    The two players were close friends, as GM Denker makes clear in his book. But GM Denker had a definite edge in their competitive play.
    IM Steiner challenged GM Denker for the title, which he had won in a round-robin tournament in 1944. At that time, starting in 1936, U.S. Championship tournaments were being held every two years (1936, 1938, 1940, 1942, 1944). GM Samuel Reshevsky won the first four of those, then did not play in the 1944 event. I am not sure how the U.S. Chess Federation worked with this. The title had been decided through a match-challenge format before 1936, with the holder having some leeway on whether to accept a challenge. For example, holder Frank Marshall (champion 1909-1936) turned down challenges from GM Isaac Kashdan several times, apparently, prior to 1936 (as Denker also writes). With pressure on Marshall building, as very strong younger players such as GM Kashdan, GM Reshevsky, GM Reuben Fine, IM Al Horowitz, and several others, started gaining prominence, Marshall decided to resign the title.
    IM Steiner later won the U.S. Championship title in a round-robin tournament in 1948. He died young, at age 50, from a heart attack, in 1955. He also won the U.S. Open, and defeated GM Igor Bondarevsky on board six in the 1945 Radio Match, USA vs. USSR, on ten boards, which was a disaster for the USA (lost 15.5-4.5).


    • #3
      Thank you Frank!

      GM Denker was an outstanding raconteur, and his "The
      Bobby Fischer I Knew...." is a fine example. When new
      books arrive at Strategy Games, I give them a cursory
      run through only, just to be able to update customers.

      If I spend more thana few moments, I become transfixed
      and absolutely glued by the awesome games and fascinating
      vignettes that accompany them. Some writers - like GM
      Denker have an absolute gift for story-telling.

      J.H. Donner ("The King") was simply superb, so also
      Gennady Sosonko, Jan Timman, and so many others - even
      Viktor Korchnoi - economical with his words - but deadly
      in their effect. His last clash with Petrosian - when
      that worthy started the infamous leg-twitch that shook
      the table and board, was mind-bending! Petrosian lost!

      I can post a few of Denker's similarly hilarious vignettes!

      Here's one -
      GM Denker - (at the Manhattan Chess Club)....

      "Another piece of good luck was to match wits against a knee
      slapper, always an interesting breed of chess player. Arthur
      Lamport, a successful banker, came to the club nearly every
      afternoon. A most charming man, he sported perfectly coiffed
      white curls on both sides of a well-oiled scalp. Although Arthur
      received Knight odds, he was, as the saying goes, a "good customer,"
      (or client) since he invariably lost at 25 cents a game.

      Lamport was, however, a tough fighter, and in his excitement
      at trying to win, he would start slapping his ample thighs with
      his carefully manicured hands. Slapa-slapa-slapa-slapa-slapa-
      his hands and thighs would soon be reverberating like a riveting
      gun throughout the club. When one of the members approached,
      Arthur invariably stopped and said, "I know, I know!", before
      the complainant could utter a word. Fifteen minutes later, the
      slapa­slapa-slapa-slapa-slapa would start all over again!!"


      • #4
        GM Denker - (at the Manhattan Chess Club)....

        "Once I was paired against the master, Alex Simchow, a chain
        tea drinker. Now, that in itself would not have been so bad.
        But every time he took a sip, up went his glasses to the top
        of his head and down went his fingers into a box of sugar
        cubes, which he placed between his teeth so that the tea
        would sluice through the sugar on the way to his stomach.

        After each gulp would come a very soft, satisfied "aah-ah."
        It took all of my will power to keep my eyes off this beautifully
        coordinated operation, which Alex had down to a "T"
        (pun intended!)


        • #5
          GM Denker - (at the Manhattan Chess Club)....

          "Howard Chandler, another outstanding "customer", did not use
          his knee as a pogo stick. This sophisticated man was addicted
          to Vichy water. He usually came to the club with at least two
          quarts of the liquid. We played even up for quarters, though I
          could easily have given him odds.

          After finishing off a bottle of Vichy, he would let loose with
          tremendous pear-shaped burps that could have been heard across
          Yankee Stadium. Following each burp, he smiled and winked at me
          as if we were sharing some secret. Years later, he confided that
          Vichy quaffing was his remedy for a weekend of overindulgence!